Now it’s a best-of-three.
The Hamilton Bulldogs, frustrated by a hot goalie for most of the game, rallied to end their Ontario Hockey League final against the Windsor Spitfires with a well-deserved 3-2 victory in overtime in front of a sold-out crowd at the WFCU Center of to contest Windsor. The best-of-seven series to determine Ontario’s Memorial Cup representatives is deadlocked by two wins each, with Game 5 scheduled for Hamilton’s FirstOntario Center at 2 p.m. Sunday
Defenseman Gavin White scored the winner after 7:35 of overtime for the Bulldogs, who leveled the game with two minutes remaining in the third half, and goaltender Marco Costantini drew for an additional attacker.
The teams hadn’t played in four days and both needed the break, although the downtime probably benefited Hamilton a little more because it gave OHL’s top defender Nathan Staios a little more time to recover from the injury that has plagued him since he was hit from behind in the second round against Mississauga. With captain Colton Kammerer out indefinitely, the Bulldogs’ defense – the backbone of their record-breaking franchise season – was constantly besieged by the Spits in Game 3 and was visibly tired in the 6-3 loss.
Staios’ return gave the Bulldogs renewed energy but an uncanny performance from Windsor goalkeeper Mathias Onuska, particularly in the second half, prevented an unrelenting Hamilton attack from fully dominating the game. So did an abundance of hit posts and shots that missed gaping holes. The Bulldogs possessed a 44-22 advantage on shots.
Fittingly, it was Staios’ shot from the point with the keeper drawn that hit the net with two minutes remaining, forcing the second overtime of the series. The first, in Game 1, went to Windsor.
Having made much of the series, the Spitfires found tailwinds as the game progressed, but Hamilton countered with crushing pressure that led to a massive 37-20 advantage on regular-time shots. But shots and goals are two different statistics.
Hamilton led 1-0 after half-time, killing three penalties and making a couple of crucial saves from goalkeeper Marco Costantini.
Logan Morrison gave the Bulldogs an early lead with his 15th goal of the playoffs when he deflected a shot past Mathias Onuska just as a Hamilton power play was up. Morrison, who has seven points in four games, has at least one point in every playoff game he’s eligible for. He also opened scoring in Game 3.
But Hamilton’s Jan Mysak and George Diaco snagged penalties early in midfield to give Windsor a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. These were Hamilton’s fourth penalty in just under 10 minutes of play, and while the Bulldogs killed the tense 120 seconds, they lost rhythm and Josh Currie leveled the game just a minute after the two Hamilton players returned to the ice.
Windsor captain Will Cuylle, who has seven points from his first four games, then chased a shot through Costantini’s legs to put the home side 2-1 ahead, which Onuska saved until almost the end.
Hamilton beat Windsor 16-7 in the second half but Onuska kept his side ahead with some brilliant saves including thwarting the escape of Hamilton star Mason McTavish who was superb all night. Onuska also popped up like an Oscar winner on a phantom goalkeeper interference call.
Hamilton appeared to level the game with seven minutes left, but Ryan Humphrey’s goal was recalled for the keeper’s interference on White. It took officers several minutes to confirm the verdict, which probably should have gone the other way.
The Bulldogs avoided dropping their first consecutive games since the first three days of December when Barrie and North Bay defeated them. That was six months and 63 games ago.
Following Sunday’s matinee, Game 6 is back on Monday night in Windsor and if Game 7 is required, it is scheduled for Wednesday night at the First Ontario Centre. The winner advances to the Memorial Cup tournament beginning Monday, June 20 in Saint John, NB.
REMARKS: President and GM of the Bulldogs Steve Staios was named the Jim Gregory OHL General Manager of the Year Award winner earlier this week.